Note to self

While some days – as I wrote yesterday – writing prompts bore me to death, on others they make me think and reflect on life in general. Today’s prompt was one of those, and one I actually like to develop a little post around.

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

Today’s prompt

To answer today’s prompt, I guess it’s important to have a little background on me. My parents divorced when I was seven, and I saw my father last when I was eleven, so the time I entered my teenage years. At the time I didn’t notice it all that much, but being raised by a single mother of three on the level of income that is just above homeless pretty much shapes who you are. We had very little compared to everyone around us, which – I also realize – is still a privileged position compared to many other areas in the world. Nevertheless, we were dirt poor in a filthy rich country. I worked – via loopholes – since I was eleven. Yes, I realize now that this is like a form of child labour. However, this was entirely by my own choice. In a family where nothing is the standard, you have to create something out of nothing. The only way to be able to do something, anything, was to work my way up. Door-to-door flyering, paper routes, and from about thirteen, physical labour at plant nurseries. Working my ass off, making money, has been my standard mode since a very young age. I had a life around this, too, but it was always present. A necessity. Looking back at this past life now, I obviously have a couple of things I would have done differently.

Don’t drink so much – I grew up in an area where drinking from the age of thirteen or fourteen was pretty normal. The first evenings we’re rather innocent, with maybe two or three glasses of beer. However, around the time I was fifteen, we would ‘start up’ at friends’ homes, drinking between 8 and 11.30 pm, and then hit the pub. Most of us would drink ten to twelve bottles before we even arrived at the pub, where we would drink another five to ten, easily. Looking back at this, saving money to drink as much as you can before drinking even more, that feels ridiculous. Considering that we did this very Friday and Saturday from the age of fourteen to twenty, you can guess how much money I spent on beers. I’ve never danced in the club. I’ve never once met a girl in a pub or club. But I wasn’t there for any of that. It was just something that I did – we all did – because it was normal. Right? Well, teenage self: I don’t think spending all your hard-earned cash on beer is normal. It will not bring you good. Drink less. Or don’t…

Go easy on your body – I worked and worked, often on heavy jobs, wheelbarrowing, paving roads, shoveling dirt, heavy lifting of trees and potted shrubs. I was a tough and strong kid, and I worked hard. Always. Long hours of physical work, followed by bad food and alcohol in the canteen. Those were my Saturdays, and many of the weekday evenings in winter. Some older – wiser – colleagues warned me that I should be more careful. Take ergonomics more seriously. I shrugged it off, laughing at the oldies, telling them that I was young and wouldn’t do this work my whole life anyway. I was an arrogant prick. I should’ve listened. Twenty years later, now I feel the results of those years of, well, what you call this? Neglect? Stupidity. Don’t be a stupid fool. Listen to those fifty year olds that still are walking around, in shape.

Just do it – I hated school. It bored me to death. And it was all this stuff that really wasn’t useful. I cannot bring myself to do things I find useless. It sickens me, quite literally. I still get psychosomatic issues whenever people push me to do stuff that I think is borderline ridiculous. However, my stupid teenage me didn’t realize that he could be asked to redo a full school year. Despite it not changing anything, it was a statement from teachers and mentors that I simply had to follow the rules. I didn’t follow rules, and lost a year. Then I was so furious, that I refused to sign up for university for another year. Another year lost. Stupid angry young boy. You lost two years that you could’ve used to get a better life. You chose stupidity. Don’t be stupid. Follow their stupid rules. You can’t change the system alone. (I still think the education system sucks and is ridiculous, by the way!)

Why so angry? – I was angry all the time. At friends, at colleagues, at school, at teachers. I think only my family was spared. But I was not a nice teenager. Very cynical, and a critic of everything. I had so much hate – hate that I didn’t yet recognize – inside of me, that pretty much everyone around me felt the consequences. Now, twenty years later, I have dwelled on the reasons for my anger for many many years. Understanding behaviour and consequences for life patterns is important to be able to change negative paths. Therapy helped me a lot. I think I’m a nicer, calmer, and simply better human being because of that. I wish my fourteen year old self would’ve sought therapy. I sometimes wonder whether my GAD would have developed the way it did…

Be the real you – I have often felt that I suppressed myself, in order to protect others. An example would be travel. I never really traveled abroad until I was 23. Obviously that’s still young, but I felt the urge already years and years before this. I never acted earlier, because it would hurt my mother in particular. I think this is also one of the reasons I postponed studying. I said I would work and travel. Then I worked and just worked, and probably drank too much. I never left. It was a fear of feeling guilty. I’d tell my younger self to follow the heart. The sooner, the better. It doesn’t really matter what other people think. You bear the consequences of your choices, and you’re the one who suffers by protecting others. Protect yourself, and be who you are, as long as it respects the law, obviously.

Start that business – I have had several businesses that were already business-like, but in small ‘hobby’ form. I was close to taking reptile breeding into a more business-like stage. I never did. Various other businesses followed, including one with a real plan and investors backing us for six million. When it got difficult, I backed out. (Glad I did). Nonetheless, it’s always on my mind. Starting a business. I’m very entrepreneurial. But also, I suffer from an overthinker’s mind. I have about ten to twenty original business ideas every year. I often delve into the likelihood of success, and if it’s anywhere close to a chance of failure, I don’t do it. So, I still don’t have a business. Teenage me, you should’ve started that reptile breeding business. Who cares if it doesn’t make money? It gets you entrepreneurial experience! (Note to self: start a business!)

If I could do it all again, I would probably do a whole lot of things very different. However, I’m pretty happy with the way life panned out for me. Working my ass off climbing ladders, proving myself to people that are not around, have all been very helpful traits to help me reach the place I am in now, at a personal level and at a career level. I cannot complain about either of the two, and my teenage experiences have contributed tremendously. No question.

I’m not so sure that I’d want to be any different now, but I’m sure teenage me could’ve been much much happier then…

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

2 thoughts on “Note to self

    1. Can you imagine that these days I get completely drunk off one bottle? It feels so ridiculous to spend a fortune on something so absolutely useless and destructive to health. I’m sure I could’ve made a decent dent in my student loans, too 😅. Anger is a weird thing. It certainly has driven me to reach new levels. I usually converted anger to ‘proving people wrong’ and to a very dark and negative attitude and dark sense of humor. I hope it’s better now. I’ve wondered at times whether this was an outlet for anger. When I started working on it, I developed intense anxiety. It always felt like a tradeoff. Worth it though.


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